careers

Why My Networking Approach Was All Wrong

When I first tried networking, it didn’t work.

Starting Career Story two years ago, I also started faithfully attending networking events. As I gravitate towards the introverted side of the personality spectrum, I’ll admit it was challenging to walk into a room full of new people, but I was determined to not let that stop me.

Like any good type A personality type would, I read up on how to effectively network. One of the recommendations was to craft a pitch, something punchy and engaging to get people excited about you and your business.

So, I put a pitch together. And let’s be honest – it wasn’t great. It felt contrived and just not authentic to me.

Plus, with meeting so many people, I was exhausted and frustrated with how superficial it felt. Just a mad frenzy of exchanging business cards with no lasting relationship.

At some point, I took a step back to ask what I valued. I wanted connection and relationship, not a transaction.

I also asked myself what strengths I could use in networking. Some of the traits that came to mind were sincerity, curiousity, kindness, and thoughtfulness.

Going back into the networking scene, I started by ditching my pitch and made it about building relationships.

I also started to experiment with language that felt more genuine. When people asked me what I did, I’d started off with a simple introduction and  let the conversation naturally move forward from there.

I’d ask lots of questions of the other person (my natural curiousity coming through). And as the conversation evolved, I’d share more about what I loved about my work if asked. I found that speaking from my passion and my heart was a much better way to spark conversation than anything else.

I also started to think of the people I was meeting as potentially longer-term professional relationships. This took the pressure off the first interaction.  Even if the initial meeting was a wee bit awkward (which they often are), I’d think, “Well, this is just the start, hopefully, I get a second chance.”

From there, I’d stay in touch with people via LinkedIn. That’s where the thoughtfulness of my personality comes into play. I enjoy helping people so when I can, I forward along any relevant resources or try to introduce people within my network.  

And if I had a great conversation with someone at an event, I’d invite them for coffee or Skype meeting. I love a good one-to-one conversation and hearing about people’s passions and work. These networking meetings have become one of my favorite aspects of being self-employed.     

Recently, my friend, Rachael Maxcy, and I started running Career Hack workshops, a non-awkward networking event where women could a) form authentic relationships and b) get input on their careers or business through intentional conversation, basically like a personal Board of Directors. 

I love it – this is everything networking should be. We’re running our next Career Hack workshop on July 17 so we'd love for you to join us. Tickets here:  https://bit.ly/2JHrdGD

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with Kristin at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

#PressforProgress @ Work

I was delighted to contribute to an article on The Mighty Women for International Women's Day. The question was "How do you think women can best "press for progress" in their career?"

What a massive, important question!  And it was hard to answer as women do still face a number of obstacles to equality in the workplace, but I gave it my best shot.  You can read my response here. 

To your career success, 

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with Kristin at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

Your Guide to Answering Tough Technical Interview Questions

You know that your upcoming interview might include technical questions – often these questions can make or break your ability to successfully land the job.  

Don’t miss out on your next big opportunity. Make sure that you are fully prepared for even the toughest questions.

Read on to find out more about how you can effectively prepare.  

Critical Preparation Strategies

Know Your Resume. Anything you put on your resume is fair game for the employer to ask about. Make sure that you can articulately speak to your experiences and skills. Never put anything on your resume that you don’t feel comfortable explaining or talking about.

Research Terms from the Job Posting: Review the job posting carefully. Are there any terms or skills listed that you aren’t familiar with? Don’t just ignore those. Do the research to make sure that you have a solid understanding of what the posting is asking for.

Identify Your Related Skills: You may not have exactly what the employer is looking for. But you might have something similar. Take inventory of what technical skills the posting asks for and then figure out your closest equivalent skills and experience.

Practice, Practice, Practice:  Interviewing is like a muscle – the more you do it, the stronger you will become.  Google technical questions related to your field to create a question database. Create flashcards or book some interview coaching to hone your interview skills.

10 Tips for Mastering Technical Questions

1. Understand the question: Ask for clarifying information if necessary before answering.

2. Use examples: If you have related experience, use those stories in your answer. If you are new to the field, you can use examples from your courses, labs, volunteer, or personal. But, keep in mind that employers will weight work and education over other types of experience.

3. Demonstrate your thought process: Employers are evaluating your thought process, not just the final solution you present. Lay out any assumptions that you might make in your decision making. Outline possible alternatives. Talk about why you would choose the route that you did.

4. Get clarification: If you aren’t sure about something along the way, ask for more information.

5. Stay calm: Yes, you want to provide the right answer. However, the employer is also watching to see how you act under pressure. Stay focused, polite, and calm even if you feel flustered. I talk more about staying calm during interviews here.

6. Organize your thoughts: Employers appreciate candidates who can clearly articulate their ideas. Present your ideas logically and coherently.

7. Focus on soft skills, too: The interviewer wants to know if you can do the job, but they are also looking for other skills as well such as openness to learning, teamwork, communication, curiousity, safety, and problem-solving abilities.

8. Be honest: If you don’t know, just say so. However, you might know something related so transition your answer to talking about what you do know. You could also mention your willingness to learn.

9. Write it out: If you are trying to explain something complex, it might make sense to draw diagrams or write out examples of your work. Also, if you have a portfolio, you could draw on tangible examples to illustrate your point.

10. Don’t get fancy: Go with the solution that is obvious – don’t try to come up with something brand new as you risk getting it wrong.

To your future career success, 

Kristin

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with Kristin at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

10 Essential Steps to Maximize Your Informational Interviews

If you love learning and like meeting interesting people, informational interviews are the way to go about building your career.

An intentional career-focused conversation can expand your ideas, help you identify new career possibilities, and provide a way to keep up-to-date on what’s happening in your target industry.

Many people arrange informational interviews only when making a career transition, but honestly, they should be an integral part of your investment in your career.

Back in 2015, I completed a counselling certificate. It was a good program that taught me decent practical skills. But I sometimes wonder where my career and business would be if I had invested those 3 hours a week into networking and informational interviews instead.

I talk about what questions you can ask here. There are no perfect questions – instead, ask about the things that interest you. One of the most meaningful questions I ever asked in an informational interview 10 years ago was “How do you see your work making a difference in the world?”  

But the questions aren’t the only thing you should pay attention to when doing informational interviews.

Today I want to focus on the other essential elements that occur before, during, and after the meeting that can help you make a good impression and improve the process overall.

1. Make a Good Impression Before the Meeting: When you initiate an informational interview, be mindful of your communication through the process of arranging the meeting.

Be prompt, enthusiastic, and thankful in all your interactions. And always double-check your spelling and grammar in emails.

2. Send a Reminder: You can send a reminder email the day before your meeting to confirm the time and location. 

3. Attitude: Go in with curiousity and a willingness to listen. People will be more impressed with an openness to learning than your intelligence. And do not try to convert the informational interview into a pitch for a job – this will do more harm than good.

4. Research: Do some research on the person you are meeting and where they have worked in the past.

5. Dress: Dress professionally, even if it's a coffee meeting. 

6. Time: Be early, but not too early. Arrive 10 minutes before your suggested meeting time.

Coming early is especially important if you are meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant. Get a table before the other person arrives so you don't waste time searching for a place to sit. 

If you committed to keeping the informational interview within a certain timeframe, then be sure to wrap up by the appointed time.

7.  Offer to Pay: Offer to buy the person's coffee or lunch. They may decline, but it's a nice gesture and a great investment in your future.

8. Prepare, but be Flexible: Put together thoughtful questions, but don’t put too much focus on the questions at the expense of building the relationship.

People love giving advice and talking about their careers. Be sincerely interested in the person and their journey. This is hopefully the start of a long-term relationship, not just a one-time meeting.

9. Send a Thank You Note: After your meeting, send an email to the person, thanking them for their time and identifying any information that you found particularly useful. 

10.  Stay Connected: Connect with the person on LinkedIn. Look for ways to help them when you can.  And let them know where you ended up, even if it was a while ago since you met up.

For me, informational interviews and networking meetings have turned into jobs, contracts, and client referrals. And as much as that’s awesome, what I really love about the process is the chance to connect with interesting people and build genuine, long-term relationships that benefit us both.  

To your future career success, 

Kristin 

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with Kristin at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

 

I Don't Know What To Do With My Degree In...

Got a degree, but don't know what to do with it? 

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If you are like 90% of students at any given university, you went to school to better your career options and improve your ability to find work. However, come graduation, it can be difficult to determine the direct correlation between a degree in Geography or Arts & Humanities with the jobs that are out there.

If you need a little help brainstorming career possibilities, I want to share two of my favorite resources. 

Based on the Canadian National Household Survey, researchers in Ontario looked at survey participant's education and occupation. From this, they created an interactive graph that maps out people's education and identifies which industries people now work in. With the exclusion of Health Sciences and Education, participants were widely dispersed throughout various industries, regardless of their education.

My second brainstorming recommendation is using LinkedIn's alumni finding function.  Simply head over to your alma mater's page on LinkedIn and click See Alumni. From there, you can type in your degree and LinkedIn will provide information on industries and top employers who hire people with your type of degree. 

Don't get stuck thinking that you only have a few career options. There's a whole wide world out there, waiting for you to explore. 

To find out more about our story-based career coaching, please click here

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. Kristin is passionate about supporting her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with her at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

 

6 Secrets to Moving Into Freelance or Flexible Employment

Want to set yourself up for future career success?

Then you should get comfortable with finding contract, independent, or freelance work. In a study conducted by Intuit, research suggested that 40% of the workforce will work in some type of on-demand or freelance work by 2020.

For some, this concept is exciting. A chance for continual learning and varied work duties. For others, moving into flexible forms of employment can be daunting. Regardless of where you are at, you can start to take some steps to prepare.

Think of Yourself as a Business of One. One of the first steps is to stop thinking about yourself as an employee, but rather as a business of one. Like a business needs to be clear on what it offers, you need to be clear on what you bring and who you can help. Know what your brand is.

Career coach, Rebecca Beaton, says that when her clients can't articulate the value they bring, it translates into a struggle to find work. The ambiguity makes it difficult to build up a targeted resume, create a website, or even network.

Know Where to Look: Finding on-going work opportunities is often a challenge. Fortunately, several freelance sites exist, such as UpWork and Freelancer. But you will have the most success finding the sites specialized towards specific industries. For example, TalentMarketplace facilitates the recruitment process for project managers, analysts and coordinators.

Network Your Way There: But Beaton suggests that networking still is the #1 way to land new contracts. At the heart of it, people want to work with people they know and trust. So, spending the time to get to know others in a genuine way is key. Go for coffee, initiate a phone call, engage over social media, or attend networking events.

Build Professional Credibility: Building up visibility of your expertise is critical. LinkedIn is the ideal tool to showcase your professional background - think about it as being your “business of one” website. Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is rock solid. It should include a professional profile picture and clear content. Depending on your industry, you may also want to put together a separate portfolio site. If you are new to freelance or contract work, share your expertise through writing or speaking.

Keep Your Skills Current: To stay competitive as a freelancer, you must drive your on-going skill development. Conduct regular skills audits. You can do this by reviewing LinkedIn profiles of people in your industry or scanning job postings to identify what qualifications employers look for. But most importantly, talk to people. This will give you the most insight into market requirements.

Start Properly, but Quickly: But before stepping into contract work, Steven Ruggles, co-founder of TalentMarketplace, suggests talking to a lawyer or accountant to get your business infrastructure in place. He also recommends taking a “lean start-up” approach. Using this approach, you quickly launch your product or service into the market. Then as you get feedback, you adjust your offering until it aligns with what employers or customers want.

Even if you are happy with your current employment, you can serve yourself well by getting some of these building blocks in place to ensure your long-term career success.

Best of luck. You got this. 

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with Kristin at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

 

Four Essential Ways You Can Prep for Your Next Career Transition

Recently, a friend told me that she felt pressure to make a “big move” in her career.  She initially started gearing up to look for a new job. But over the next few weeks, she started to have second thoughts and decided to pause her job search. Her friends seemed disappointed that she had not taken more dramatic action. 

But making a big move isn't always the best path. Sometimes, it making a dramatic move can actually cause more harm than good. There is something to be said for a patient, thoughtful approach to making a career move. 

I shared this analogy with my friend.

I sometimes drive by the construction site for a new mall near my place. For months and months, all I see is this huge pit as they build the foundation. It seems that nothing is happening, but the reality is that a lot is happening. I just can't see it. A solid foundation is critical! Once the foundation is done, the framing will go up quickly. This is the exciting part - seeing the building suddenly take shape.  

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When we think about our careers, it's often wise to focus on our foundation before making "big moves." It may take time, but once you make the move, you know you will have a solid foundation to support you. 

Here are a few ways that you can build your solid career foundation. 

Get Work Experience: You need to get some solid work experience behind you to be credible to a future employer. If you hop from job to job, employers may feel that they cannot trust you. (That being said, you also need to know when to move on. )

If you feel that you are getting stagnant at your current role, look for ways to broaden your experience. Perhaps, the company would be open to an expansion of your role or to you taking on a special project.

Improve Your Skills: Pay attention to the skills necessary to do your job well. Do not rely on your employer to build those skills for you. Instead take responsibility and start to look to develop your skills yourself. 

There are plenty of low-cost ways you can develop skills. Perhaps it's through a volunteer job, a course, or online training. 

Update Your Training: I'm seeing a creep towards higher and higher levels of certification required for jobs.  If you are missing training or certification to move ahead in your career such as a Bachelor or Masters degree, start working on it now. You want to make sure that you have what it takes to land your next job. 

Build Your Network: Career expert, Jayne Barron, says, "You need to build your network before you need it." One of the easiest times to network is when you are working, not unemployed.  If you build a strong network now, you are helping yourself out in the future. 

So what are you doing to build your career foundation these days? 

Best of luck. You got this! 

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. Kristin is passionate about supporting her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace.